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Feb 19, 2014

Wake by Anna Hope

A war story with lots of potential and let down

Wake by Anna Hope
Random House; February 2014
$26.00; hb; 304pp; 9780812995138
Review copy provided by the publisher for review in the February 2014 Historical Novel Society magazine
Burton Book Review Rating: 3 stars

A brilliant debut for readers of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, in which three women must deal with the aftershocks of WWI and its impact on the men in their lives-a son, a brother and a lover. Their tragic connection is slowly revealed as the book unfolds.

Wake: 1) Emerge or cause to emerge from sleep 2) Ritual for the dead 3) Consequence or aftermath.

Hettie, a dance instructress at the Palais, lives at home with her mother and her brother, mute and lost after his return from the war. One night, at work, she meets a wealthy, educated man and has reason to think he is as smitten with her as she is with him. Still there is something distracted about him, something she cannot reach...Evelyn works at the Pensions Exchange through which thousands of men have claimed benefits from wounds or debilitating distress. Embittered by her own loss, more and more estranged from her posh parents, she looks for solace in her adored brother who has not been the same since he returned from the front...Ada is beset by visions of her son on every street, convinced he is still alive. Helpless, her loving husband of 25 years has withdrawn from her. Then one day a young man appears at her door with notions to peddle, like hundreds of out of work veterans. But when he shows signs of being seriously disturbed-she recognizes the symptoms of "shell shock"-and utters the name of her son she is jolted to the core...

The lives of these three women are braided together, their stories gathering tremendous power as the ties that bind them become clear, and the body of the unknown soldier moves closer and closer to its final resting place.

Wake is a potentially poignant and gripping novel that follows three families whose loved ones served in the Great War. Based in London, the 1920's setting was presented in an eloquent and intoxicating way as it embraced the invisible shroud that the war had left behind.

The writing was fast paced as we get into the heads of the main characters wondering if there is life after war, and getting into the minds of veterans was devastating and haunting. A mother sees her dead son in all those who have returned – alive but broken, a sister wonders who the man is behind the face of her brother, as she ponders if there is life after losing a betrothed.

It was hard to tell the difference between the two younger women Hettie and Evelyn as their characters began to morph into each other but the older mother in the story helps break it up a bit. The manner of the death of her son in the war is a tragic mystery that connects some of the characters which provided an intriguing angle to the story.

Instead of focusing on survival and resilience the story circles around the characters with an ominous sense of continual loss. If you allow yourself to be drawn to the emotional hues to the novel this could be a very enjoyable reading experience.

The kicker was that it was going along at a great pace: full of life, death, love and grief, when the story abruptly ended thus making this novel catapult to the top of my worst endings ever list.